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Lawmakers propose steeper punishments for online child predators, push for automatic internet filters | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

Spring Hills Sen. Blaise Ingoglia is teaming up with two fellow Republicans in the House to crack down on internet predation and hold manufacturers of mobile devices more accountable for child safety.

Ingoglia and his collaborators filed a pair of proposals to improve online protections for Florida minors. One measure focuses on punishment and adding guardrails. The other would create a funding source local police could tap for web-based sting operations.

“These two bills will give law enforcement the tools they need in order to put online child predators behind bars for a long, long time,” Ingoglia said in a statement. “Keeping these lowlifes off the street and having them on the sex offender registry will help ensure our children are protected from the ever-present harms of social media platforms.”

The first pair of bills (SB 1196, HB 1129), titled the “Protect Our Children Act,” would hike penalties for “luring or enticing” minors under 12 to physical locations for unlawful purposes to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison for the first offense, up from a first-degree misdemeanor.

Repeat offenders could face second-degree felony charges carrying up to 30 years behind bars and $10,000 in fines. Those convicted would have to register with the state as a sexual predator.

Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart filed similar legislation (SB 766) nearly a month ago that includes identical penalty increases for the same crimes. But the twin measures Ingoglia and Escambia County Rep. Michelle Salzman are sponsoring, effective Oct. 1, go further.

Those measures would also increase and add penalties for adults who “groom and prey on minors” through sexually explicit conversations online. Adults who “knowingly” try or succeed in trying to “seduce, solicit, lure, or entice” minors into sharing nude images or records would face a third-degree felony for the first offense and up to second-degree punishments for repeat offenses.

Further, the measures would require the makers of smartphones and internet-ready tablets by Jan. 1, 2025, to include on all devices sold in Florida an automatically enabled, password-protected filter preventing access to “material that is harmful to a minor.”

Violations could be punished by up to $50,000 in aggregate fines per device, plus legal costs for the Attorney General’s Office and the revocation of a manufacturer’s license to do business in the state.

Parents or legal guardians could also sue for up to $50,000 per violation. That provision would not preclude potential class action lawsuits. And if someone other than a parent or legal guardian disables the filter on a minor’s mobile device, they would face a $5,000 fine for the first offense and up to $50,000 in fines and a year in prison for offenses thereafter.

Salzman said in a statement that the legislation is “a crucial step forward” in protecting minors “in an era where technology plays a pivotal role in our children’s lives.”

“This legislation not only bolsters restrictions against sexual predators, but also establishes essential safeguards for our youth navigating the digital landscape,” she said.

“By addressing the risks associated with social media and mobile devices, this law reinforces our commitment to ensuring a secure and nurturing environment for every child, shielding them from potential harm and empowering parents and guardians with the tools needed to safeguard their well-being.”

The other identical couplet of bills (SB 1190, HB 1131) Ingoglia is sponsoring with Wildwood Republican Rep. John Temple would establish a new “Online Sting Operation Grant Program” within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

Through the program, FDLE would annually award local police agencies funds from an unspecified state appropriation to cover expenses related to computers, electronics, software and other “necessary supplies” to combat online child predation.

In its current form the two-page legislation, effective July 1, defers establishment of criteria and a funding distribution model to FDLE.

“This grant doesn’t just bolster defense, it equips the very heroes who stand between our kids and harm, giving them the tools to make the internet a safe haven, not a hunting ground,” Temple said in a statement. “I am proud to file a bill that (helps) protect our kids from evil.”

In 2021, the nonprofit National Center for Missing and Exploited Children received 29.3 million reports of suspected child sexual exploitation — a 35% increase over 2020 and an all-time high, according to CBS News. Nearly all the tips the center received came from phone and social media companies.

More recent data from multiple organizations that track online pedophilia cases and trends suggests an estimated 500,000 predators are actively online daily, and more than 80% of child sex crimes start on the internet.

The nonprofit Beau Biden Foundation, which focuses on protecting children, found 1 in 5 children report they’ve been solicited or contacted by a predator in the last year, and 46% of children give away information about themselves online.

The newly filed bills still await committee referrals. Stewart’s bill awaits a hearing before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, the first of three panels it must clear before reaching a floor vote.

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